My humble recommendation for many this World Book Day in Women’s History Month is to spend some time with the great lifelong Chicagoan American poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Her body and breadth of work is nothing short of awesome, miraculous and nationally critical.
She was the very first real famous writer (the gods!) I helped organize a special event for. My ad hoc University of Chicago “sorority” for women of color on campus was blessed enough to get Ms. Brooks as the first guest speaker we ever booked, to launch our name and mission on campus. What a launch it was!
She came to our stage and reception in her honor in a wheelchair with her signature smile, big spirit and of course genius poetry. She was the ultimate crowd pleaser at her great age. She passed away shortly after I graduated college.
I have fond memories of attending the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing’s annual Black Writers Conference at Chicago State University in college, when I was dreaming of being a writer like the greats who showed up there. In fact, that conference awarded me its Zora Neale Hurston/Bessie Head Fiction Award for my short story “Card Parties,” my very first piece of fiction published professionally in my life when I was 25.
I am still in awe I returned there as a professional novelist to speak and teach others just a few years later. In 2017, I was included in REVISE THE PSALM: WORK CELEBRATING THE WRITING OF GWENDOLYN BROOKS from Curbside Splendor Press. I studied her more closely under professor Jacqueline Goldsby when I returned to U of C for graduate school in the English department after I became a novelist. Her narrative coming-of-age and adulthood novel in verse, ANNIE ALLEN, affected me hugely.
Gwendolyn Brooks has been a presence in so many writers’ lives, not just young poets or black people. She was truly the People’s Poet. She is a great black woman in America and deserves all the praise, flowers and more to this day!